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I tapered from 10 to 5 milligrams of my Lexapro a week ago. See my previous posts on the topic here and here. I thought it was going okay so when I forgot to take my tiny slice-of-pill one day I said to myself, “Eh, what’s five milligrams between neurotransmitters? Why not just stop taking them? What’s the worst that could happen?”

HAHAHA. The joke was on me.

Lexapro has a half life of like 27-32 hours. A drug’s half-life is how long it takes to fully leave your system. So when hour 30 comes, look out. That’s when the withdrawal symptoms hit. From five to zero is a big deal, it turns out.

The symptoms I experienced the first time, going from 20mg to zero were absolutely debilitating. There’s this sensation you get where you feel like your brain is sloshing around in a pond. Every time you turn your head your brain takes an extra second to come for the ride. Slosh slosh. It’s that cobwebby feeling you might sometimes have when waking too abruptly from a dream. That gets progressively worse the longer you stay off the drug, and it makes it really hard to concentrate on, say, demonstrating a circuit of exercises to a class full of boot campers. Anxiety, depression, irritability, fear and nausea are other symptoms that hello, sound like the very symptoms that lead a person to take a drug like this in the first place.

The theory based on my research is that this cascade of symptoms is not a relapse (where often the patient is persuaded to increase their dosage) but drug-induced withdrawal.

Every single symptom—every shred, every sliver and slice—evaporates when you take the drug again. With no increased dosage, mind you.

The drug companies tell you there is no such thing as SSRI “withdrawal” because there are no cravings associated with stopping the pills, the way there is with say, meth. The drug companies like to call it “discontinuation syndrome.” But it’s withdrawal. Semantics in this case are a matter of PR. Because you might reconsider buying a prescription if you knew it would cause debilitating and severe emotional and physiological symptoms should ever you decide to stop taking them.

I remember telling my doctor (my GP—I don’t have a psychiatrist) that I’d read these drugs can permanently alter your brain chemistry. He replied, “Isn’t that what you want?” We laughed and I was like, “Bro. You are so wise. I DO indeed to want to permanently change my brain chemistry—to one of not finding me falling into fits of despair, rage, guilt and self-loathing.” So yes, doc. Bring on the Lex.

Ironically the way that these pills, from what I am reading in The Anatomy of an Epidemic (a gripping and terrifying read if ever there was one) permanently change your brain chemistry is by making you MORE prone to emotional upheaval—not less. Another joke played on me. Hilarious, right? Your serotonin receptors wither and become lackadaisical due to being pumped with so much of the stuff, as is the case with SSRIs. They’re only trying to keep everything regulated after all. But then, when you pull the plug on all that glorious re-uptake inhibition, the receptors can’t do their regular, pre-pill job anymore and all hell breaks loose in the twisty canals of your brain. This is why tapering is the key to success. Knowing this, it frightens me to go from one milligram to none. From .000001 to 0.

From five to zero milligrams the other day I didn’t get nauseous but I did manage to make some stupid decisions, say dumb shit, yell at Frankie, feel like a terrible ogre, get lost on the way to a meeting that was five minutes away, get dizzy, exhausted, shaky and weepy. Then in the midst of all that someone got a hold of my credit card information at the CitGo where I was pumping my diesel VW with environmental toxins. That’s some wiggy universey shit. Like when the chips are down they keep falling, falling. The spiral philosophy. Good begets good, man. Bad begets—you know it—BAD.

When I burst into tears because the tracking number could not be found on my Totes Voting’ for Bernie! tote bag I’d ordered, I knew it was time to go back on my meds. Five milligrams felt too steep a drop from ten, so I’m doing 8mg today, thanks to the liquid Lexapro and milligram dropper I instructed my doctor to prescribe. Demanded really. No withdrawal effects you say? Safe to stop cold turkey? I would sue him if he wasn’t already going out of business. And I truly like this man. People are misinformed and the drug companies like it that way.

Bryan says we need to plan for when I stop taking Lexapro completely. So he can take off from work, make dinner, clean up after my lunatic outbursts.

It’s enough to make me question my decision to quit medicating at all. Why not stay on it for the rest of my life? Sarah Silverman, after all, loves her Zoloft and doesn’t seem to have any foreseeable plans to wean herself from it.

It’s the knowledge though. The horrifying possibilities of permanent brain and physiological damage. It’s wanting to have a fucking libido again. “Private cuddles” is how I explain it to Frankie. That gets a big eye roll. Like, ew, Mommy.

I’m hoping this book has a happy ending, or at least a hopeful one. There are people out there who have had it far worse than me, who fared far worse on the drug for reasons that never should have led to taking an anti-depressant in the first place. Those stories are heartbreaking, but we need them out there. As humans with no real anyone looking out for us, we have to be as equipped as possible to make decisions for not only ourselves but for our kids. This might not be thalidomide, but it definitely smacks of that famous hindsight chorus, “If I only knew then what I know now…”

Peace out & more to come,

e.